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Cookbook Review Criteria

Ochef reviewers try to consider each book within the context of its stated or apparent goal — if it's meant for novices, we don't compare it to cooking school textbooks. We make value judgments about certain categories (flavor, production quality, etc.), but other categories are simply factual (number of recipes, list price, etc.).

The following are review criteria that might need some explanation:


Intended audience — For whom (at what skill level) is this book primarily written, as stated by the author, publisher, publicist, or our best guess?*

Apparent goal — How comprehensively does the book treat its subject?

Competition — How does this book stack up to other books in the same category already on the market?


Variety — Within the context of the book's apparent goal, how is the mix of recipes?

# of recipes — How many recipes are there?

Practical recipes — Most people cook fewer than 5 to 10 recipes from any given book. Many books have a number of A-list recipes and are padded out with lackluster fillers. The rest sit idle. This category is a guess at the number of good, valid, potential, edible recipes included in the book. We generally cook two or three recipes from each book we review, so this category represents leap of faith on our part.

# of ingredients — On average throughout the book, how many ingredients (excluding salt, pepper & water) does each recipe require?*

Ingredient hunt — Most ingredients in most books are easily obtainable. On average, does the book reviewed have more than its share of hard-to-find ingredients? Impossible-to-find ingredients?*

Recipe complexity — In the context of the book's intended audience, how complicated are the recipes, on average.*

Instructions — How clear and comprehensive are the instructions?*

Time conscious — If the book makes promises about the time required to complete the recipes, how valid are they on average (and are they valid in the context of the book's intended audience?) Otherwise, on average, are the recipes rational and realistic in terms of how long they take?

Recipe speed — Regardless of whether the book indicated general cooking time, how long does Ochef think it will take to prepare average recipes?*

Added info — Does the book provide information in addition to recipes, and if so, how useful is it?

Photos/drawings — If the book includes photos and/or drawings, how much do they contribute to the book's value and utility? Do they help you cook or are they solely ornamental?

Recipe results — How fancy, in general, are the dishes produced by the recipes in this book?*


Nutritional info — Does the book provide information on diet, nutrition, and/or health and how spotty or comprehensive is the information?

Tone — If there's nutritional information, what is the tone of that presentation?

Result — If there's nutritional information, is it helpful or scary?

Format/Ease of Use

Layout — Does the layout and format of the book get in the way of your using it effectively?

Legibility — Is the type of an adequate size and design, or does it get in the way of your cooking?

Production quality — How well made is the book, taking into consideration it's binding, page selection, printing quality, etc. In the case of books that are available in multiple formats, we are referring only to the format reviewed.

Page numbers — A pet peeve, if ever there was one, but how easy is it to find page numbers?

Table of contents — It is useful; is it easy to use?

Index quality — For most cookbooks, a good index can make or break the book.

Page flipping — Do many recipes make use of other referenced recipes that are found on other pages, and which must be prepared first? In some cases this is unavoidable, but there are limits.


Writing background — What is the author's writing background?

Cooking background — What are the author's cooking credentials?


Fulfils ambitions — How well does the book accomplish its goals?

Flavor delivered — How do the dishes taste in general, based on those we test, our reading of the recipes, and our extrapolations for the rest of the book?*

Overall tone — How sterile, straightforward, or preachy is the book?

Value — Our assessment of the production quality of the book, the quality and utility of the recipes, etc., relative to the cost of the book, and relative to other books in its class.

Overall rating — Given all the subjective criteria in the review, how does the book stack up? Our judgments include good, very good, excellent, and Ochef Top 100 – those we consider to be the 100 best cookbooks on the market.

We don't review a book that we consider to be substandard unless it is especially prominent or the author is a celebrity, in which case – with our apologies – we suggest you might prefer to skip it. There are actually two categories below that, which we don't even bother to mention: dreadful and lousy, so good is much higher than two stars might imply.

*Some books may span more than one column in a given category (a book with as many recipes for an advanced beginner as for a good home cook, for example). The categories marked with an asterisk are most likely to have multiple selections.


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